The Dominion Post

Finally, an end to the lies

- Henry Cooke

After years of shameful inaction a New Zealand government has finally moved to remove abortion from the Crimes Act. But the path through Parliament is not yet completely clear, and the conservati­ve counter-reaction will be very loud.

The fact that New Zealand had more restrictiv­e abortion laws than places such as the United States has long been somewhat obscured from view, with politician­s happy to simply gesture towards the mental health loophole when asked about the issue.

This is not good enough. The loophole – where a pregnant person is forced to tell two doctors that having a child would damage their mental health – is abhorrent, practicall­y and morally.

You shouldn’t have to lie to receive a medical procedure while worrying about the possibilit­y of criminal prosecutio­n, and the rigours of the two-doctor approval process mean pregnant people in out of the way areas often have to make several trips to see different doctors. It also doesn’t always work for people: 2500 people have had abortion requests denied in the past decade.

Politician­s across the spectrum have put this issue in the ‘‘too-hard’’ basket since the absurdity of the current law was passed in 1977. This isn’t even because the issue divides Kiwis – many don’t know that abortion is still a crime and polls indicate a super-majority want the law changed.

Yesterday, after a lot of wrangling, Justice Minister Andrew Little revealed the changes.

He has decided to go with a slightly more conservati­ve version of the middle option presented by the Law Commission, likely because of pressure from NZ First.

A test will still be required for abortions after 20 weeks. A tiny sliver of abortions are performed after 20 weeks, when they usually happen for medical reasons.

This is not the full liberalisa­tion activists have been pushing for, but it will still be the biggest change to abortion law since 1977. Crucially, pregnant people will be able to self-refer to providers with no awkward doctor visits needed.

Other changes mean the Government will be able to regulate safe-spaces around clinics, which could stop protests happening right outside them.

The bill remains a conscience issue for Labour and National, meaning its actual path through Parliament is not guaranteed. A handful of Labour MPs with strong religious objections are likely to vote against it or abstain.

NZ First votes at this point are not certain. Little will be looking to make up those votes with National MPs, several of whom are strongly prochoice. He’s been working with former justice minister Amy Adams on the matter, and she will likely bring her fellow liberals such as Chris Bishop, Judith Collins and Nikki Kaye.

Simon Bridges’ vote will be interestin­g. Bridges is quite conservati­ve socially – he voted against the legalisati­on of same-sex marriage – but he is also now the leader of a party that wants to win over the majority of New Zealanders.

Little has clearly been watching what has happened to David Seymour’s euthanasia bill and has sought to follow a different path.

Instead of chucking the bill to the justice select committee – which held up the euthanasia bill for 16 months but didn’t really change anything – a special, more time-limited select committee will be set up to consider these reforms.

None of this means this law won’t have a massive fight ahead of it. But at this point it is on surer footing than Seymour’s euthanasia bill.

You shouldn’t have to lie to receive a medical procedure while worrying about the possibilit­y of criminal prosecutio­n.

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